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Dori Tunstall Fast Co. Design

OCAD’s Dori Tunstall on Decolonizing Design

Dori Tunstall on Decolonizing DesignIn a Fast Company feature, Dori Tunstall spoke with Doreen Lorenzo for Designing Women, a series of interviews with brilliant women in the design industry. Dori Tunstall is the dean of the faculty of design at Ontario College of Art and Design University, OCAD University in Toronto, Canada, and the first Black and Black female dean of a faculty of design anywhere in the world. 


Tunstall explained how she was only introduced to the world of design after completing her PhD in anthropology at Stanford University, where she focused on Ethiopian tourism and development. After graduating, she worked in high-tech consulting at Sapient where she first met professional designers and discovered her true interest in “design anthropology,” the study of what people make over time and space.

Later Tunstall returned to academia, but this time to teach and train young people to become design anthropologists themselves. She created a master’s program in design anthropology at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia where she worked with local Indigenous communities and integrated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing into the design curriculum. When OCAD U was looking for a dean who could help them with decolonization, diversity, and equity, she brought that work to Canada.


Since becoming a dean At OCAD U, Tunstall started the Black Youth Design Initiative with a group of Black alumni, students, and faculty to help Black youth build the confidence to solve problems through design. She has also hired a more diverse faculty of  Black, Indigenous, and POC educators who represent the students they teach and are able to authentically tell stories of how harmful design has been. That sense of authenticity transfers over to the students as they embrace the uniqueness of their own identities through the projects they create. Tunstall has helped rewrite the curriculum at OCAD U by bringing in different cultures and embracing an ethos of “respectful design”.


To harness empathy in design, “design education has to be decolonizing” expressed Tunstall.  In Canada, classes begin with a land acknowledgement of the Indigenous traditional owners who are custodians of the land on which they are gathered. This is critical to shifting perspectives. Meanwhile Indigenous sovereignty and the stealing of Indigenous land has not been addressed at all in the United States. Tunstall pointed out how design harkens back to when Europeans exploited the labor of Black people and the land of Indigenous people. “We can’t decouple colonialism from design or the way we understand and practice design. They’re deeply linked and implicated.” 


Tunstall ended her interview with a message to incoming design students, “Learn to be respectful designers… It’s about the kind of person you are inside, your strength and confidence, and how that’s connected to everything else that will make you an ethical, creative, innovative, and caring designer. Those are the kind of designers we need in the world.”


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